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Coalition to sue EPA over ash pond rules delay
Updated 1/22/2012 7:53 PM ET
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A coalition of 11 environmental and public health groups from seven states has announced plans to sue the government over the delay in finalizing rules to make coal ash ponds safer.

The coalition is at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency over the EPA's failure to implement the rules created after a pond collapse in 2008 in Harriman, Tenn., sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge into the Emory River.

The rules would label coal ash hazardous or non-hazardous waste and establish structural-safety requirements for ash ponds, which hold waste from coal-fired power plants. The coalition — represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice — notified the EPA on Wednesday that it plans to sue.

The groups involved are from Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The EPA did not comment on the planned lawsuit. It said a review of more than 450,000 comments it received on the rules is ongoing. The EPA held eight public hearings about the rules nationwide.

Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans blamed the delay on "intense pressure from the coal and power industries."

Scott Sutton, spokesman for Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy, which operates ash ponds near here, said opposition came from businesses that recycle ash. Coal ash is used in products ranging from bowling balls to some cosmetics, he said.

A hazardous classification would increase the cost to transport the ash and result in fewer uses, and that could have an impact on jobs, he said.

"In this economy, that is something that the EPA and White House have to take into account," he said.

Hartwell Carson, a waterway advocate here, said the ponds hold ash he blames for water pollution and present a "a looming threat" to the community.

Sutton said Progress Energy takes exception with environmentalists who call the ponds "high hazard." Some ponds are considered high hazard because of the potential for deadly damage if they failed, but not because they are unsafe, he said.

Contributing: Ostendorff also reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times

Posted 1/22/2012 7:13 PM ET
Updated 1/22/2012 7:53 PM ET
Gilbert Pickel of Kingston, Tenn., stands on his riverside property, which he says has been left devalued by the December 2008 disaster.
By Bill Poovey, AP
Gilbert Pickel of Kingston, Tenn., stands on his riverside property, which he says has been left devalued by the December 2008 disaster.